Happy Birthday Kansas! Today, you are 162 years old, having become a state in 1861. And, there is no place quite like you, no sunsets and sunrises quite like yours, no rolling hills like yours. Most importantly, there are no people like yours.
“Ad Astra Per Aspera.” “To the stars through difficulties.“ This is the motto of your people, and we don’t disappoint. The Kansas farmer feeds the nation, and we know how this works. Gail, Suzanne and I are farm girls, and we know how farmers make it through difficulties to keep going. We learned from our parents, from each other and our brothers, our schools, our community and our state.
As adults, we continue to learn this from each other, but perhaps more importantly, we also continue to learn how to reach for the stars, and how to celebrate when we arrive there.
I had grand plans to make my second annual Kansas Day tour with my husband, but it was not meant to be this weekend. It worked last year ( There’s No Place Like Kansas, January 30th, 2022), and it will work again soon. The weather is bitter cold today, but it is warm inside. Inside where Gail, Suzanne and I gathered briefly at my home when Gail was passing through our small city.
We take every opportunity to gather, even if it is for a brief visit. Today was no different. In honor of Kansas Day, we took a group picture, but it appears Suzanne didn’t get the memo, instead sporting a Colorado shirt. We will let her off the hook. Especially since she never fails to notice my Kansas Day “costume.”
In honor of our magnificent state and its birthday, I am offering a montage of pictures of us enjoying the wonder of Kansas from previous posts.
Little Jerusalem State Park in Logan County
The backyard of Gail’s/Lola’s home in Atwood
Konza Prairie Trail in Riley County
Somewhere in rural Rawlins County in the wee hours as Gail celebrates her birthday in grand style
The bike shop in Osborne— Trixie and Lucille are their faithful bicycles
Suzanne and her husband Steve preparing for a journey through Kansas
My front porch
Classic big hair/big dress for Easter in the 80’s on our family farm
Gail soaking up the Kansas sun on her back patio
Sunflower season near my home
Bennington State Lake
Easter on our family farm, Osborne County
Bundling up for a winter outing on the farm
Meeting in Colby to head to Colorado, Thomas County
Suzanne and me wallowing in the mud with our little brother on the farm after a Kansas summer rain
My backyard during my favorite season in Kansas
I’s born in Osborne. So were Gail and Suzanne
The famous bathroom in Lucas, Russell County
Gail’s back patio
Saline County fair
Swheat girls, our family farm in Osborne County
Again, Suzanne, that’s a great shirt from another great state, but we are celebrating Kansas here…and that Nebraska shirt in the Sunflower picture? We’ll talk.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY KANSAS!
Be sure to tune in next week for the second annual “Spell-it Sisters Spelling Bee edition. Once again, win or lose, we guarantee we will hold you spellbound.
It has been two years since I made it to the wheat field. Last year, it was a work scheduling problem, along with weather woes that dictated the days in the combine. This year, it was a little problem called COVID. That makes only three harvests I have missed in my 56 years, and it breaks my heart.
Along with Gail and Suzanne, however, I will always be a Kansas farm girl at heart. Swheat girls, just like our friends Tana and Amy. I met them in the summer of 1984 when I began “babysitting” these two amazing sisters. They didn’t need much, just someone to take care of business. Business soon became pleasure, and we have remained close since. We may, or may not, have gotten wheat tattoos together a few summers ago to prove this.
So close, as a matter of fact, that they visit every July 4th with their families from their homes in Arizona. We have maintained this tradition for many years, and our hope is that it will continue for many more. They left only four days ago, and I am already looking forward to next July 4th, which, coincidentally, is one of my favorite holidays.
Their visit kicks off my favorite month of the year. Following that fun-filled (almost) week, I continue to enjoy the Kansas summer, my favorite season. A vacation is usually in order in July, as well as our youngest son’s birthday. And, I have deduced that since I was born in mid-April, I most likely came into being in July.
Suzanne was able to join us for an evening, but Gail wasn’t able to make it. As always when she is not here, we missed her; she always adds life to any party.
We decorated to the nines again, perhaps even more than we normally do.
One of our favorite pastimes is to porch sit, and we amped that up too this year by dragging the old couch out of the shop for some good old-fashioned redneck couch-sitting on the porch.
The couch is still sitting on the porch, up for grabs. It just may look perfect year-round on your porch. If you think perhaps it would, please let me know–and bring a truck.
We swam in the backyard pool,
and, of course, took in the fireworks. We celebrate our country, as well as our favorite place in it: Kansas.
This onelooks almost unreal, but it is real, taken by my daughter-in-law.
Every year brings back old traditions and memories, and more new ones are made. Our bonds grow deeper, and our Kansas farm-girl roots keep us grounded and gritty.
Happy Independence Day to you, every day of the year.
The reviews are in: “Gail brings high energy and fun to all aspects of her life! I had such a fun time. Her garden is delightful, Lola is one of a kind, we got to meet her friends on their front porch, and had a great lunch at the bar/grill she manages. Camp Gail was highly entertaining. I give “The Gail Experience” 5 stars! –Shari
It’s a real thing, TheGail Experience. I have lived it many times; I am one of the lucky ones. In the next breath just after I say that, I will also say this: there is no such thing as The Suzanne Experience. And that’s how they both want it. As the middle sister, I guess I am in the middle there, too. I guess, perhaps, this blog is part of The Kathleen Experience, if there is such a thing.
But I am not here to talk about that. This is about Gail, her aura and the gifts of her presence. And there are so many.
Shari, my friend since kindergarten, loves to hike like I do. We have long planned to take a trip to western Kansas to experience the natural beauty of several land formations there, as well as a new state park with hiking trails. We have tried two other times: first, my son was sick with Covid in my home, so we decided it best not to share that kind potential illness. Second, we were both available and healthy, but Gail was not going to be home at the time we planned to go, and this involved an overnight stay at her home. I told Shari, “We could go, but you wouldn’t have The Gail Experience. I will let you decide.” She decided to wait until Gail was home
Last week, it finally happened. The stars and planets aligned, we were both able to get out of work responsibilities, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and Gail was home. So, Shari arrived from the Kansas City area at my home Tuesday evening, and we headed west Wednesday morning. The sightseeing and hiking was every bit as beautiful and enjoyable as we had hoped, but that’s not the point. Our home state boasts so many natural wonders that deserve more attention than most people give them, and more than I can put into this blog. It may very well be covered in a future post, because both Gail and our beautiful state deserve their own headlining coverage.
The farthest point of our trip took us to the northwest corner of Kansas, and even into the southwest corner of Nebraska. We turned around, and were at Gail’s house in the beautiful burg of Atwood an hour later. Gail had supper ready, and we were hungry hikers. As usual, it was delicious.
Shari’s reaction to Gail’s home was the same as mine when I first set foot in it over 20 years ago: it’s Gail. Her spirit and style are carried through in her decor, especially in Camp Gail, which I have featured in each of the five pictures at the beginning of the blog. We “camped” after our cruising, more on that later.
It was about 7:30 pm at this point, and it was a beautiful almost-summer evening, the kind that calls for cruising. So, as well The Gail Experience, Shari also got to have The Lola Experience.
Gail’s 1974 Nova, lovingly named after its last owner, always turns heads on the streets of Atwood.
We were privileged to meet a group of her friends, who were hanging out on the porch of the group’s senior member, 87-year-old Buzzy. Perhaps you could say, with the little squeeze that Buzzy added in this flanked pose, that Shari and I also had The Buzzy Experience. Or, perhaps more accurately, we got Buzzed.
We cruised some more, then headed to Gail’s house. It was a girl’s night, as her husband was out of town for a few days. Her daughter, Lydia, was there to enhance The Gail Experience. As is custom at Gail’s house, guests gravitate toward Camp Gail, which is where we spent the rest of the evening talking and reminiscing, but mostly laughing.
Perhaps it was the beautiful night, or the slight deliriousness from a day in the sun, or maybe since we were one or two beers in, everything was funny.
I’m pretty sure, though, it was mostly the company.
Among other visual treats in Camp Gail, Shari noticed a beautiful scarf Gail had as a decoration. She picked it up, and proceeded to find all the ways it could be used. With Gail’s encouragement, suggestions and goading, we laughed until our stomachs hurt.
Starting with the functional look to keep one’s hair tame in the Kansas winds–just like our mothers used to wear, Shari began the modeling:
Our mothers also wore scarves fashionably around their necks:
And to church.
Then, it started to get really silly.
She took the cue for this one from my Willie shirt, and it was followed by the do-rag:
And the blindfold…
And the bandit.
and the toothache/mumps wrap.
The turban was the finale; our stomachs couldn’t take any more laughing.
Shari and I had to hang it up and go to bed, but, as usual, Gail could have entertained us for hours more.
In the morning, we went for a brisk walk, followed by massages. We were relaxed and energized, and, of course, hungry.
Gail had some work in the office of her first full-time gig as an office manager for a chiropractor,
and then we enjoyed lunch at the home of her second full-time gig as the manager of Legends bar/grill. She wasn’t technically working, but she had already unloaded the food truck that delivered supplies earlier that morning.
As parties always are, it was then over. We fought the blasting south Kansas wind for the first 30 miles, and then I cussed it as I drove east for about the next 120 miles until it calmed. As usual, Gail loved the wind. Ugh.
But I still love her for that. It’s part of The Gail Experience. If there were a Suzanne Experience, it would include the love of wind as well. Definitely not part of Kathleen in any way. Our day of hiking/sightseeing in western Kansas couldn’t have been more calm and beautiful, with brilliant blue skies and a slight breeze. NO wind.
I am not as pious as the picture of Shari praying in the scarf, but I say a prayer of thanksgiving every day for the gifts of my sisters, and for the “experience” of being their sister. They cry with me in the bad times, and laugh with me in the good times. And, we know the importance of having fun.
Special thanks to my dear friend Shari for making this trip with me. Her “Gail Experience” was a great one!
I didn’t think it was very funny, but he did redeem himself by repeating several times that the people in Kansas are as nice as they come, or something to that effect. I listen to this speaker on the radio every weekday morning; we’ll call him “Kevin.” He typically injects humor into his two-minute morning ditties, but this one wasn’t so funny to me.
He was traveling from Tennessee to Colorado, which necessitated driving all the way through Kansas. “Hundreds of miles of nothing,” he said. He even tired of seeing our breadbasket crop: wheat. Clearly, he doesn’t get it.
“Close your eyes, and I am going to give you a mental picture of what it’s like.” Then he was silent for a moment. “That’s what it was like.”
You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes right now–I didn’t even close them, either.
I guess the splendor of The Wheat State sometimes takes special eyes to see, unless you are a Kansan to the core, like my sisters and I are.
We were all born and raised here. ‘I’s born in Osborne,’ we can all say.
Except for the college semester on an exchange to New Mexico, and the year in Philadelphia, I am a lifelong Kansas girl. Gail and Suzanne have never lived anywhere else. While we do enjoy getting away to visit other states, Kansas will always be in our hearts as home.
“Kansas” is a Native American name meaning “People of the South Wind.” Now, if you have read enough of this blog, you know that Gail and Suzanne love the wind, and I loathe it. So they claim that title with pride and joy–but not me. It’s one of the few things I don’t like about Kansas. Gail has said, “I love the wind so much, I’m thinking about changing my name to ‘Gale Force Winds.” I can’t even dignify that with a response.
Aside from the blasting wind and the sometimes-brutal winter weather, I love our climate. We have all four seasons in full splendor, with annual temperatures ranging from about minus 10 degrees to around 110 degrees, give or take a few degrees. I know of few other places in the country with this range.
As I write today, Friday January 28th, it is beautifully sunny, calm and 41 degrees. I was even able to put my laundry out to dry today, one of my farm-girl traits I will never abandon.
I will hang out laundry again tomorrow, one of the first things I will do to begin the festivities before my husband and I embark on a field trip: tomorrow is the 161st birthday of our great state, having become a state in 1861. I am planning a day-long birthday party to celebrate. Gail, Suzanne and I were not able to celebrate together, but my husband was available and willing to embark on this adventure with me.
To The Stars Through Difficulties is the translation of our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera.
Sunday, 10:30 AM: The birthday party yesterday was a hit. We left about 10:00 AM, and returned home about 8:00 PM. He likes to drive and I like to be chauffeured, so it worked out well. Except that he didn’t know where he was going until I told him where to turn. I had the day-long itinerary planned, but he didn’t know the plan. After almost 28 years of marriage, surprises are hard to come by, so I purposely kept him in the dark, and he didn’t complain. He was a good sport, knowing we were long overdue for a day-long date.
Our first stop was 45 minutes away at a splendidly beautiful place that I had driven by, but never explored. Geary State Fishing Lake is a few miles south of I-70 on Highway 77 south of Junction City, and it is home to what many consider the most beautiful waterfall in the state. It takes a short hike from the parking lot, but it is well worth it. The falls were mostly frozen, but this was magnificent in its own right.
We plan to come back when we can spend more time exploring, and we highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for the (partially) hidden natural treasures of Kansas.
Returning to I-70, we headed about 20 miles further east, and turned north toward Manhattan. Along the way, there is a stunning panoramic vista of the Konza Prairie, a tallgrass natural wonder that is also a research station for nearby Kansas State University, as well as a popular hiking mecca. I have featured several hikes on these trails in earlier posts.
While Manhattan offers its own wonder, we skirted this college town–our son’s alma mater and Kansas’s own Little Apple–to head further east on Highway 24, arriving in this beautiful burg just 12 miles further:
After a delicious lunch and Kansas-brewed beer at this fine establishment,
We took a stroll down the iconic Yellow Brick Road,
then crossed the street to this mecca for anyone who likes the Wizard of Oz, as it is Kansas’s most notable film.
It was informative and entertaining, providing much history and trivia we didn’t already know. The Wizard of Oz is considered the most viewed movie in the world, having reached over one billion people across the globe.
We met these awesome, hard-core Kansans at the museum. Eden and Perry took their Kansas Day celebration to the next level, as shown in this picture:
If you live close to, or are traveling close to Wamego, Kansas, this museum is a must if you haven’t already been there.
Heading north out of Wamego on Highway 99, we stopped to see this hand-dug well in Westmoreland, then continued on north and east, picking up highway 9 to Blue Rapids.
If not for this guidebook, written by my friends and Kansas explorers extraordinaire, Marci and WenDee, we wouldn’t have known about this natural wonder outside of Blue Rapids, along the Big Blue River:
Alcove Spring is a natural spring in a beautifully wooded area, just a short hike off the gravel road that leads to the parking lot. Knowing it was the perfect place for their needs at that time, the ill-fated Donner Party even spent some time there in 1846. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and rightfully so. We plan to return when we have more time, as the hiking along the multiple trails would easily fill an entire day.
The guidebook also informed us that the city “square” in Blue Rapids is not really a square at all. In fact, it is the only circular city square in the state of Kansas, with the streets extending from it like spokes on a wheel.
Now, I would be lying if I told you that part of my motivation to create this trip was to allow me to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, one that many women enjoy as immensely as I do: shopping.
I had heard so much about Sunflower Mercantile just 12 miles further on Highway 9 in Barnes, Kansas, on the same radio station as the comedian. Their advertisements enticed me, and I made it a must-see/must-shop destination for someday. Their antique/new/used combination was right up my alley.
Since I had the power to make someday today, we headed there after Blue Springs. It’s a good thing I budgeted our time on paper, because, while it seemed we had so much of it to go to these places, turns out it really is true that time does fly when you are having fun, and what was supposed to be an hour in this awesome store, turned into 25 minutes when we arrived there at 4:35 instead of 4:00, knowing they closed at 5:00.
It’s an even better thing that the owner was willing and planning already to stay open a bit later. More awesome than that, however, is the fact that, unbeknownst to me until I arrived, I already knew her; I met her through Marci and WenDee. Gloria and I had a great time catching up, and I left with a few treasures, including another addition to my growing Fiestaware collection.
Heading out of Barnes around 5:15, we proceeded on to our next and final stop, the only one I had already told my husband about, because we had already decided not long ago that we needed to go there:
We arrived in Clay Center, Kansas just before sundown, another splendid Kansas sunset that continues to make this natural wonder one of Kansas’s most beautiful skyscapes.
It’s not fair to say we saved the best for last, because every stop was magnificent in its own right. However, after a full afternoon–without snacks, even–we were hungry again. And, as we typically are on Saturday evenings, a bit thirsty, too. We were drawn to this place because we both savor the taste of their most famous libations: locally brewed craft beers. Hands down, we both agreed they were top-quality, perfectly flavored beers.
The food was equally as tasty and perfectly flavored. Their surf-and-turf special was just what my husband craved, and the fish and chips on my plate were among the tastiest I’ve ever had–and I frequently order them when I dine out. Their service was fabulous, fast and friendly. Without hesitation, I can say that we will be going back for more of their tasty food and beer.
We had hoped to see the murals that the city of Clay Center boasts, as they have many beautifully drawn murals around town. It was almost dark, and we were hungry, so those will have to wait until next time. We did see this one on our way out of town:
If I understood it right, the legend of the “Kansas Nice” sticker goes like this: a visitor from another state commented on how “nice” Kansans are. He said, “There’s nice, and then there’s Kansas nice.” We get it. We stand out for our welcoming friendliness, smiles and kindness. We reach out to make newcomers feel welcome. We help our neighbors. We aren’t in it just for ourselves. Just as “Kevin” said on his radio show, “You couldn’t ask for nicer people.”
The natural beauty of Kansas is one thing that may need to be shown to the unaided eyes, but our “nice” is obvious even to someone who couldn’t wait to reach the Colorado border.
Gail likes Kansas for all these reasons, too. She wanted to be sure you knew, too, that she loves the thunderstorms, blizzards, and any kind of Kansas storm. The more intense, the better. Of course, strong winds make it as good as it gets for her.
Gail, Suzanne and I are born and raised Kansas girls, and this is our home. Mom and Dad were born and raised here, too. Family ties run deep for all of us; our roots and loved ones are here. We do like to travel to other states,
but there is no greater feeling than coming home to Kansas.
Suzanne prides herself on her ability to rapidly name each of our 105 counties, and to identify them by their two-letters on our state license plate. This was her contribution when I asked for favorite Kansas pictures:
She can be such a smart-ass sometimes, but we love her for that.
Gail’s friend Jan took these two magnificent pictures of our beautiful state:
And Gail captured these pictures of the Kansas sky:
It can be sunny here, as well as moony. Both day and night skies can paint beautiful scenes.
Even though we know there may be a lot more “Kevins” out there who fail to realize the natural beauty of Kansas, we fully get it. The Sunflower State/Wheat State/Ad Astra Per Aspera State continues to shine as a beautiful wonder of nature, and we will do our best to continue to shine as “Kansas Nice.”
We welcome all you “Kevins” out there to come visit Kansas. We are up for the challenge.
For Gail, Suzanne and me, there’s no place like home.
Thanks to all the merchants and employees for allowing us to celebrate our state’s birthday with them. Also, the guidebook pictured above is a must-have for anyone who wants to get the scoop on any and every place in Kansas. It is a great gift as well. It is available in independent bookstores in Kansas, many Kansas merchants, and on their website as well: http://www.kansassampler.org.
It’s that time of year again. My three favorite months of the year are now behind us; it’s always hard for me to leave summer behind.
There is one grace, one gift of late August/early September that gives me an unparalleled high: the Kansas sunflower is in full bloom. Around Labor Day, the sunflowers start showing off again–and they have every right to.
Our mom loved sunflowers. In yet another effort to keep our parents’ spirits alive and well, Gail, Suzanne and I have taken her affinity for the Kansas state flower and formed a new appreciation for this beautiful gem.
Perhaps I am a little more extreme than they are in many ways, but I took it to the next level, complete with Mom’s signature in the leaf:
My long-lived affinity for blue moons is celebrated as well, wrapped around the sunflower. It just seemed right to pair them.
What a gift it is to be born into a family with sisters whom you love so much. Many women aren’t so lucky, and we are fully aware of this. We had no choice but to be together, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They are not only my sisters, they are my best friends.
Other friends are in our lives by choice. We decide who to let in, and who to keep. Sometimes friendships are made because we are drawn to a person, other times they are formed by chance.
When I went to college in 1984, I was assigned a potluck roommate. You take what you get, and this means taking a chance. I hit the jackpot with Marilyn. She was a sophomore, having learned the freshman ropes already. She was majoring in speech pathology, and I always admired her dedication to this field. It sparked my interest as well, but it took a master’s degree, and I knew I would be lucky to finish with a bachelor’s.
Greater than my interest in her field of study was our friendship. We hit it off, and we welcomed others into our circle, including my dear friend from my hometown, Tracy, as well as Denise, a friend from close to her hometown.
The four of us lived together in an apartment the next year, and the memories we made will last forever, even if some of us can’t remember certain ones. I will never forget, and will always be grateful to Marilyn for inspiring me to pursue the career I chose.
We had the opportunity to fill in each other’s memory holes this past weekend. Two years ago, we gathered to celebrate our 35-year-bond (A Time to Reap, July 2019).
We vowed to gather again every July, but last year, well, it was 2020. This year, however, we had a grand opportunity to meet. After being delayed twice to COVID, we took in a concert in the grand theater in the downtown of my small city.
This was no average concert. This was another Kansas girl, our very own Martina McBride. Even more cool than that, she hails from very close to Marilyn’s and Denise’s hometowns. When she spoke to the crowd–she made it clear how much she loves to be back home, mentioning her hometown of Sharon, Kansas, as well as her family band she grew up in: The Schiffters–her maiden name was Schiff. We were among the few hooting; Marilyn and Denise knew exactly where Sharon, Kansas was, and we were in the area to hear her years ago. Her musical family played at festivities in the area and when I went home with Marilyn in 1984 (85?) for a weekend, we had the privilege of hearing her sing at a wedding dance.
Martina played at this same theater five years ago, and we were there, too. Her legendary voice comes from such a small dynamo, but we know that Kansas girls are big, strong and mighty on the inside. Martina exemplifies this in her voice; we all waited for our favorites to be belted out, and she didn’t disappoint.
We know we are truly Blessed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear the every day should be Independence Day. If I’d had one request, however, I would have asked for the all-time great Christian song, the song that has the power to bring so much peace to a funeral: How Great Thou Art. We had it as one of the songs at our parents’ funeral, and I will never forget it. Perhaps, however, that request was granted long ago, as I will detail in a moment.
All three of these friends-for-life made the trip to be with me that day, and I will never forget that, either. All three of them know the joy of having sisters, but all three of them also know the pain of losing a sister. I cannot fathom that pain, because, as Martina sings in Blessed, I love them so much it hurts.
But both joy and pain in life, as we all know in our own ways, and from our own losses, have a way of waxing and waning. Joy, if we work at it, and let our loved ones and friends help, can override the pain. It takes work, and it takes letting those people in to share the pain, but it can be done.
Remember, sharing joy multiplies it, while sharing sorrow divides it. And never ever forget there is a force stronger than any of us at work all around us. Love is our proof of that. I have a story about more proof I found on my own, the story of my request granted.
It was in the 90’s, and my husband and I were visiting Mom and Dad on the farm. It was late summer, and the sunflowers and other wildflowers were in bloom, and the road west of our farm was a great place to take in this natural beauty. I headed out for my morning run, and put on my music–this was pre-iPod days, and the best I had was a bulky set of headphones that would tune in to local FM stations.
I almost always run to music, and these usually got me through. It was a Sunday morning, and there was a local station with a Christian music show at that hour, so I tuned in.
When I got to the curve about a mile west of the farm, the DJ announced a song from Martina McBride. I was hopeful that it would be How Great Thou Art, of course. Just two weeks prior, we were visiting Mom and Dad, and when I ran, I had the same station tuned in and her masterpiece rendition of that song played. Further, it was in almost exactly the same place I was running at that moment.
The song began, but it wasn’t that one. I don’t recall which one it was, but I know it was beautiful. The FM signal wasn’t always consistent, and it began to fade. That song faded out, and another song faded in: it was Martina McBride singing How Great Thou Art. She finished, and her first song faded back in, and it finished. The DJ came back on, commented on her beautiful voice in the other song, and went on with the show. No mention was made of what I heard. I do know what I heard, and I will believe this was a show of that great force that is always at work all around us. Sometimes we have to look for it, but sometimes, like that Sunday morning so long ago, it was presented to me, and could not be missed.
There are many things that bond sisters together. Love and loss, life and shared memories. Friends have those same bonds. It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I am speaking for myself, but I couldn’t have chosen better sisters. I do get to choose my friends, but they have to choose me as well, and for that, I am so thankful that Tracy, Denise and Marilyn chose me back. We are celebrating 37 years as friends this fall; we came two-by-two to Fort Hays State University, and became a circle of four.
Tracy’s gift to us two years ago were the bracelets pictured above. This year, these rings are our new shared treasures.
The Kansas sunflower never fails to share its beauty at the close of every summer. My husband, knowing how much I love them, tried to plant a patch for me in his garden, with only one showing up.
It seems that, much like some Kansas girls, they have a strong will to thrive in the wild, making their own decisions about where and when to bloom, choosing to do it in their own way. They prefer to share their gifts on their own terms, and they do it well. Leave them to act on their wisdom, and they won’t disappoint. But they never forget, just like Martina said to do as she left the stage, to take care of each other.
“January has only one thing to be said for it: it is followed by February.” Kathleen Tynan
I hate to disappoint Suzanne, but Groundhog Day is only two days away, I don’t have an outfit planned yet, and it doesn’t look like I will be able to come up with one. Perhaps I will simply wear brown and call it good, but I’m open to ideas.
It’s not that the day isn’t worthy of a special get-up, because it is one of my favorite obscure days of the year. Plus, the movie Groundhog Day is in my top five. I will be watching it Tuesday.
Even in the pre-pandemic years, January was typically a soul-draining month for me. The coldest and windiest part of winter is upon us, the holidays are over, and the days are short and the nights are long. I have to work harder to remind myself that brighter days are soon to follow the darker ones. This year, when I reminded myself to look closer, January offered the following joys:
*Hope for the eventual defeat of COVID began arriving in the vaccine.
*Gail, Suzanne and I got together last weekend to celebrate a late Christmas and our Mom’s birthday as well.
*After it adopted us by not leaving our door, we adopted a sweet cat. My husband has aptly named it “Katleen,” and Suzanne thinks I’m on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady. I haven’t owned a cat since I lived with both of my sisters on the farm, but it kinda feels like I need a cat at this point in my life…
*Our great state of Kansas celebrated its 160th birthday two days ago, and I dressed appropriately. I think Suzanne liked it; I’m pretty sure she meant “you’re crazy” in a good way in the return text after I sent her this picture:
One of Kansas’s locally famous daughters recommended drinking beer or wine made in Kansas to celebrate. I did my part by toasting to Kansas with a beer from Blue Skye, our local brewery.
The best is always yet to come. One of our Mom’s greatest lessons on surviving tough times was this: Always have something to look forward to.
*Suzanne is getting married in a few weeks, and Gail and I–as well as our whole family–are almost as excited as she is.
*Since COVID prevented our epic 50th birthday party at the shore for her, Suzanne will choose her dream beach destination for a sister trip this summer–we hope.
*Gail will turn 61 years young in February, and I will turn 55 in April. While our celebrations won’t be as big as Suzanne’s–or as big as Gail’s 60th last year, we will celebrate as we always do.
I don’t need to tell any of you who know the movie that 2020 felt like Groundhog Day almost every day. The same bad news over and over; the same staying-at-home pattern, the same yearning for lost social contact.
If, however, we look at our lives this past year as a chance to re-evaluate, just like the lead character Phil did in the movie, then perhaps it can be seen as a catalyst, or even a crucible whose challenges and crises provided an opportunity for personal growth.
If the same old ways in your life keep producing the same old results, well, then…you get the idea.
I have found the best way to keep the winter blues and blahs alive and well is to stay in the same routine, the same rut over and over again. It always works like a charm. So, today, as the gray skies hung low like a wet blanket, and the dreaded Kansas wind (Do I need to remind you that my crazy sisters LOVE the wind? Ugh!) tried to steal any remaining joy from the outdoor experience today, I decided to get out there anyway, and shake up my routine.
My empty-nested husband and I took a little Sunday drive north. We have the time and only ourselves to take care of, so we took care of a yearning to try something new. Because we like the small-town atmosphere of a down-home dining experience, we decided to try a new restaurant we had heard of in a roundabout way.
The Broken Arrow Cafe in tiny Aurora, Kansas was just what we needed. While we don’t recommend taking the backroads on a wet day, if you live anywhere in central Kansas, it is worth the drive to this restaurant in Cloud County, Kansas.
Happy Groundhog Day to you this Tuesday–and every day.
If you meet any one, or all of us when we are traveling outside of our home state of Kansas, and you call any one of us, or all of us Dorothy because clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore, we will not think you are funny. We have heard it a million times already. If, however, you are calling us Dorothy because she demonstrated strength, bravery and fortitude during a most difficult time, then we will be flattered. She embodied the original Ad Astra Per Aspera spirit.
Dorothy Gale, the main character in the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz, found her way home to Kansas when all hope was lost and helped others find their way as well. She demonstrated courage by facing her fears, led others out of darkness and challenged false authority like the good-natured bad-ass she was. And, her last name was Gale. Different spelling, same good-nature, same bad-ass spirit as Gail of The Sister Lode.
There’s no place like home.
Most of us, after spending record time in our homes last year, know this better than we may want to. I don’t have to explain any further, the entire world is in the same boat.
The roughly 2.9 million residents of Kansas are no different. However, we come from a long line of people just like Dorothy Gale. On January 29th, just 5 days from today, we will celebrate our state’s 160th birthday. Our state motto says it all: Ad Astra Per Aspera: To The Stars Through Difficulty. Our state was founded on this motto, and we continue to demonstrate it in good times and bad.
Gail, Suzanne and I gathered at my home on Saturday, January 23rd. Gail’s daughter Lydia had her quarterly endocrinologist appointment in Salina on Friday, and then they went on to Wichita to see Gail’s firstborn, Kate. Because Lydia has her mother’s strong We Can Do It sense of fortitude, and she is a Kansas-bred and born girl just like her mother and aunts, she has the Per Aspera spirit as well. She continues to meet the constant challenge of her Type One diabetes, and she continues to win the daily battles, as well as the war. Her checkup was as good as they could have hoped for. Just like any other hardship Gail and her offspring encounter, they plow through, to the stars through difficulty. Typically, they come out smiling on the other end. This time was no different.
In the absence of our typical large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, the sisters of The Sister Lode had a gift exchange that still needed to take place. This annual event is highly anticipated between the three of us; we spare only some expense and no effort to choose the most exquisite and perfect gifts for each other.
This year was no different.
Suzanne has no live cats yet; she is searching for the perfect one. Until then, Gail found the perfect substitute:
If you grew up in our era, you probably won’t bat an eye at one of the gifts I got for Gail. She loves pillows, and this seemed perfect. If, however, you are from a generation below us, please know that this game was not considered occult when we were kids, nor do we consider it that now. Perhaps we got some really good information and guidance from the Ouija board back then, back when it was socially acceptable.
Knowing I am a patriotic American and Kansan, Gail knew I would love this addition to my Sunflower State collection of decor. Suzanne, who exaggerates, will tell you that I have a costume to match every holiday and special occasion throughout the year. She is pretty sure I will fashion an outfit out of this flag just in time for Kansas Day on Friday. Silly Suzanne, I would never desecrate our state flag like that. Besides, I already have my outfit for Kansas Day ready to go. I planned it out just after I put my Inauguration Day outfit together last week.
Our mother would have been 84 years old last Friday, January 22nd. Because, in order to to reach those stars through difficult times, we continue to find reasons to celebrate. She would have wanted us to celebrate, with or without her. So, we did. A day late. I’m pretty sure there are no clocks or calendars in Heaven, so to her, it was no big deal. Nothing was ever a big deal to Mom; she was pretty much go-with-the-flow; along for the ride, always doing whatever worked for everyone else. If she had even one fault, it would be that she never put her needs first. Of course, that can also be a virtue, and it worked well for her.
She loved navy blue and white stripes, and while there was no memo to be missed by Gail, somehow Suzanne and I decided separately to wear those when we got together.
All three of us, however, got the other memo circulating on social media, and we invited Bernie to our celebration. We know Mom was laughing from Above, and we hope you are, too. It’s much easier to get through difficulty with laughter.
It’s that time again, and I don’t like it. I don’t like the cooler temperatures, I don’t like the shorter days, and I don’t like the thought of cold weather returning. Call me crazy, but I am in my element when the mercury is in the triple digits.
I have tried for over fifty years now, but it does no good to be upset about it. Fall still comes, and behind it, winter. I try a little harder every year to embrace it, and I think perhaps, I may be just a bit more successful each year.
I am sitting on my porch at 8:40 p.m., feeling the cool breeze. It is 69 degrees, and I cannot deny that it feels nice. But with the cool evenings and mornings come the cooler days. We have had temperatures in the forties this week, and rain for four days straight, no sun.
The backyard pool must come down, and this breaks my heart.
However, I am seeking out the other joys that arrive only as summer begins to depart. Like the sunflowers. For about two glorious weeks at the end of August/beginning of September in Kansas, our state flower is in full bloom in the wild.
This year, my husband planted some in our yard, so we have our own personal blooms to savor.
I cannot deny that I immensely enjoy this part of late summer. When it becomes obvious that summer will soon wind down, the state flower steps it up and shows off its unparalleled beauty to remind me that nature’s splendor remains in other ways. I simply needed to take another look.
Not that sunflowers aren’t beautiful and grand, but Gail and Suzanne have other, more exciting reasons to celebrate.
Gail was together with her four children and her two grandchildren two weeks ago. Her second-born lives in Michigan, and their visits are not frequent enough. Her grandsons live there with their mother, so these visits are an incredible highlight for all of them.
But Gail, as you already know, can make a celebration out of pretty much nothing. I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad day or a wasted day in her life. She chooses to let the bad roll off her back, and focus on the good.
I want to be like her when I grow up.
Both Gail and I have been married for twenty-plus years, and have lived in our homes that long as well. Both our husbands and our homes are nothing new, but they are tried-and-true, and we are still very much smitten with both. There are no big celebrations planned at this time, but there is no need for any. Every day is a gift to be savored.
Suzanne has quite the opposite news. She is getting both a new house, and a new husband. This is super-exciting news not just for her, but for Gail and me as well. Her husband-to-be got a 127% approval rate from both of her sisters, and while Gail has not yet seen her new house, I gave it five stars. My husband the builder gave it five stars as well when he checked it out for her. (This never happens.) Guys aren’t much into approval rates, but I know he finds his future brother-in-law at least as favorable as the house.
In the interest of her limited self-disclosure, that is really all I can tell you, and that’s enough for you to know she has a lot to celebrate right now.
If you recall, one of our mother’s many nuggets of wisdom she shared with us was this: Always have something to look forward to.
In this year of COVID, our excursions have been greatly limited. Last weekend, however, my husband and I ventured out to western Kansas to see some of our Sunflower State’s natural beauty that we had not yet taken in.
Topped off by an overnight stay at Gail’s house—along with patio sitting, we had a lot to look forward to last week, and none of it disappointed.
This week, I am anticipating a long-overdue trip with a dear friend. No details at this point, but suffice it to say that even though our backyard pool came down already, my time splashing in the sun is not done yet for this year.
Two years ago this fall, I featured a group of six sisters we know who take annual sister trips—all six of them, which makes us look like amateurs, which we are. This week, they have been celebrating in Michigan, very close to where Gail’s daughter lives.
May their annual celebrations continue to inspire us, and hopefully you, too. They set the bar high for making it all work, but when family and fun are priorities, they show us that the sky is the limit.
I am sitting on the porch again, this time I am savoring the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures. The weather is simply splendid, even if it lacks perfection by 20 degrees in my book. The humidity, however, is a breathable 44%, and I cannot deny I do love that part.
I am working harder than ever to savor every beautiful day of the fall, even if I know that means the cold will be here soon. I am working on savoring the cold days, too. Life is too short and too beautiful not to at least try.
Kansas has four beautiful seasons, and each one is distinct in its gifts. The hardest gift for me to accept—no matter which season—is the blessed/cursed Kansas wind. Gail and Suzanne call it blessed, I call it cursed.
Suzanne’s new house is tucked away on an almost-secret street in our small city, surrounded by trees. I don’t think she realized until I pointed it out to her that she would not have full benefit of the wind. This may have been a small downer for her, but the wind, along with all the other simple things to celebrate, are always able to be found somewhere.
Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit, and sometimes, we have to look at them differently in order to call them celebrations.
Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.
Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.
All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.
Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.
Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.
The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.
At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.
Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field. The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.
I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.
The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi. The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.
A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:
“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”
Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.
Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,
Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.
and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.
The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.
The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,
Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.
The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit
Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.
The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.
And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.
This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.
My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.
Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:
Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.
The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.
At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.
The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,
The church we all grew up in,
And our parents’ final resting place.
Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.
I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.
Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.
Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.
The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease. Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab. Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.
Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,
And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.
Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.
I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.
“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” L.M. Montgomery
Second only to July in my book, June is one of the most splendid months of the year.
My mind and heart hearken back to my childhood, where June meant the beginning of the three carefree months of no school, hot weather, picking cherries, swimming lessons, Father’s Day and the beginning of wheat harvest. The cherry-picking and swimming lessons weren’t always good memories then, but they are now. I love to swim, and I am so glad our parents took the time and effort to make sure we knew how. I was scared of the water when I first started, but not anymore.
I hated to pick cherries then, but I love it now. I remember Mom waking us up early to beat the heat with our cherry-picking. We climbed our two cherry trees with a small bucket, and didn’t get down until it was full. This was followed by an afternoon of pitting cherries at the kitchen sink. It was torture then; I love it now. My husband planted a cherry tree for me in our backyard several years ago, but the frost got the blooms this spring, so there will be no cherries this year. I did just find a bag in the freezer from last year, so that will still make a good pie.
LAST YEAR’S CHERRY HARVEST
Today, June 21st, 2020, is Father’s Day. My family gathered at our in-laws to celebrate the fathers in the family. Good food, drink and company were enjoyed by all, as we always do when we gather there. Father’s Day has become a sweet-bitter observation, instead of the mostly bitter day that I felt for the first handful of years after our dad was gone.
To anyone who has recently lost their father, who feels only the bitter, my heart breaks for you. But, I want to let you know that time heals, and in the coming years, Father’s Day will be sweet-bitter for you, too.
LAST YEAR’S WHEAT HARVEST
I remember celebrating most Father’s Days of my youth in the harvest fields. Dad and my brothers would be hard at work cutting and hauling wheat. This year, harvest has not yet started on our farm, nor is there much harvesting happening where I live, 80 miles south of there. The wheat harvest begins first in the south and moves north as the climate dictates.
30 miles south of my home, a farmer is moving his combine to the field to cut. Note the red machine, vs. the green. My International-Harvester farm-girl heart will always favor the red ones. I don’t mind getting stuck behind slow-moving farm machinery, because they feed me, too.
Today, however, the climate here is one of unrest, as we wait for severe thunderstorms to roll in, further delaying the onset of harvest.
Aside from the fly in the ointment that storms cause for harvest-hungry farmers, these storms are another thing I like about June.
Garage sales and lemonade stands are another sure sign of summer.
Last night was the summer solstice. The annual “longest day of the year.” The sun shone longer in the sky than any other day, and I always observe this peak day. The days will slowly, almost imperceptibly become shorter day by day until the winter solstice occurs on December 21st. I crave sunlight, and welcome each lengthening day until the summer solstice, and now, knowing that the days will get shorter, I will again welcome the longer days starting in December.
We were at our brother’s house near our family farm for the last year’s winter solstice. Here, the sun is setting on the shortest day of the year.
July will arrive in nine days. So will our annual guests. I will eagerly welcome both, and we will celebrate the first week of July together.
July, with it’s honor of being the hottest month of the year in Kansas, as well as a week with some of my favorite friends, Independence Day—my second favorite holiday, and perhaps a family vacation, is my favorite month of the year. My three favorite things about Kansas are July, June and August—in that order.
Because I was born in mid-April, I came into being in July. Perhaps this is why I love July so much. Independence Day, with its fireworks, food, family and freedom, should be savored year-round, keeping its spirit alive in our hearts all year, just as we should with Christmas.
Independence–to me, means letting go of those things that hold us back and limit our happiness. With or without fireworks, it means freedom. None of us who enjoy this liberty should ever take it for granted.
As I anticipate another Fourth of July, I am delighting in decorating my home in a patriotic theme. I started on Flag Day—another great thing about June that occurs on the 14th. Today—Father’s Day, I am holding the memory of our dad close to my heart. I am also celebrating the father who made me a mother, and doing all I can to savor the beauty in every day, no matter how many minutes of sunshine it offers me.
Our dad enjoying a lunch break in the harvest field.
Last night’s fiery sunset was a fitting exit for our brightest star, shining longer than any other day of the year.
Happy summer solstice, happy summer, happy Father’s Day, and Happy June to you.